Monday, March 5, 2012

Research Paper on Cinematography

Research Paper on Cinematography

The Elements that Affected Lebanese Motion Picture
The Middle Eastern region of the world has always been well-known for its blood-shading wars and unquenchable conflicts. It came to be that most of the people mention Middle Eastern countries only to talk about peace resolutions, political situations, and donations of the biggest world organizations to this problematic region. What is unfortunate, is that because of such a political and economical situation in the countries of the above region, people overlook the remarkable cultural potential the region possesses.

In my research paper I would like to talk particularly about Lebanese film industry. My paper will introduce the reader to the situation in the industry, and will provide brief information about famous works of Lebanese directors.  However, the primary purpose of the paper is to determine the factors that have influence Lebanese motion pictures over the years.

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It is well known that the cinematography of a country usually reflects what is going on in this country. For example, French movies describe he cosmopolitan and urban conflicts, American movies often picture fights that arise at one of the inns in the Wild West, English movies underline the British politeness and have their settings in small neat villages. The above also can be applied to the cinematography in Lebanon. This small country has been involved in bloody military conflicts for over six decades, thus most of the Lebanese films were concentrated around the topics of war and slaughter. Another theme that is often met in Lebanese films is the one of immigration. This is because Lebanon, having a favorable geographical position, was a considerably big centre of immigration since thousand years ago to present times. Thus, I would like to claim that modern Lebanese cinema can best be explored in the context of the Civil War and Wars with Israel. However, what I would also like to suggest is that with a right approach Lebanese cinema can both construct a national identity and thereby open up new perspectives on the socio-political role of cinema in the whole Arab world.

History of Lebanese Cinema
It used to be that Arabic cinematography was represented only by the movies made in Egypt. It was considered that none of the other countries of the Middle Eastern region had anything to offer to the audience. However, the situation changed in the period between the years 1940s and 1960s. That was the period that many Middle Eastern countries received their independence. Thus, for the convenience of this paper I would like to take this point to be the beginning of the Lebanese cinematography. However, without a shadow of doubt, prior to 1940s during the colonial times there were active and innovative filmmakers in Lebanon who were eager to experiment with the new techniques and make a fast profit out of them.

For economical and political reasons filmmaking in Lebanon was developed on a much smaller scale than it was in other Arabic countries, in particular Egypt and Syria. This is one of the reasons why there is so little information on cinematography of this little country. However, what is known is that the first Lebanese film, called „Mughammarat Elias Mabruk” translated as „The Adventures of Elias Mabruk” came out in 1930. „The Adventures of Elias Mabruk” was a silent amateur comedy about a Lebanese immigrant who returns home after trying his luck in the United States of America.

By the early 1950s there were two studios in Lebanon, named Al-Arz and Haroun. Additionally to the above two, there was another production company by the name of Georges Nasser’s Films. This production company made important and widely screened films such as „Ila ayn” – „Whither?” in 1958, and „Al Gharib al saghir” – „The Small Stranger” in 1960. In a nutshell, it can be said that by the mid-1960s large sums of capital had been invested in the film industry in Lebanon. More and more new studios started to be opened up in Beirut and other big cities. These studios were not simply little start-up companies, but had high-quality equipment and were competing to be the leaders if not worldwide, but surely in the Middle East. The new studios that were created in Lebanon in that period of time are: Ba’albeck, Near East Sound, and Modern. Additionally, following the example of Egypt, Lebanese authorities together with filmmaking activists of Lebanon created a university-level film training institute at St. Joseph University in Beirut (Asfour, 2000, p 46).

As luck would have it, the best years of Lebanese cinematography belong to the years of the civil war, meaning two decades between the mid-1950s and mid-1970s. Over the course of these two decades highly praised films were made. The examples of these outstanding works are as follows:  feature documentaries by Borhan AlaouiĆ© such as „Kafr Kasem” in 1974, and „Beyroutou el lika” – „Beirut—The Encounter” in 1981. Another famous director is Heini Srour with his documentaries „Saat el Fahrir Dakkat” and „Barra ya Isti Mar” – „The Hour of Liberation Has Arrived” that came out in 1974. Furthermore, Lebanon gave the world of cinematography such well known directors as Jocelyn Saab that filmed „Egypt City of the Dead” in 1978, Maroun Bagdadi „Beyrouth ya Beyrouth” – „Beirut Oh Beirut” filmed in 1975, and „Les Petites guerres” – „Little Wars” made in 1982. The list can be continued with motion pictures by Jean Chamoun and Mai Masri called „Tel al-Zaatar” that came out in 1979, „Under the Rubble” -  the film of 1983, and „Wild Flowers: Women of South Lebanon” that saw the light in 1986 (Asfour, 2000, pp. 47-48).

 As it can be assumed, most of the above mentioned motion pictures dwelled mostly about the civil war: its reasons and effects, its outraging destructive outcomes and the aftermath. A special place in the above movies set the image of the people of Lebanon who suffer from the war anxiety, who are seeking stability and distinctness in their lives. Furthermore, the Palestinian dilemma together with the civil war was one of the leitmotivs of the Lebanese cinematography of that period of time.  It is remarkable to mention that even though Lebanon had been fighting Israel for decades now and has always been against the creation of the state of Israel in general, there are not many motion pictures that show the hate towards the Jewish state. Indeed, there are movies that talk about the uneasy situation in the Middle East, however, these film show the perspective of Lebanon and are not simply filled with hate and aggression towards Israel (Lapidus, 2002, pp 234-236).

What has to be pointed out is that over the years of the Lebanese Civil War there had been an impressive number of European and Lebanese co-productions. Thanks to the involvement and desire for cooperation within European directors, many names of Lebanese filmmakers became known to the world.  The European cinematographers invested much money into the motion pictures production in Lebanon during the years of the civil war. For the Europeans Lebanon was a very successful investment – the country possessed remarkable talents that being inspired by war were willing to put their emotions into productions. Such cooperation was also very useful for the Lebanese directors because without help from the Europeans they could have never become well-known and could have never had a chance to present their films at various international festivals (Lapidus, 2002, p 237).

After the Lebanese Civil War was over, the filmmakers no longer wanted to center on the war, however they continued using it as a background. The example of such movie is „Maarik Hobb” – „Battles of Love” directed by Danielle Erbid. This movie became the winner of the 2004 Milano Film Festival, receiving the best film award. The centre of this movie in not the civil war, but it is a personal drama of Christian Lebanese family. The war itself appears only in the soundtracks of the movie, however, it is clear that the family is living in times of war, though the latter is not mentioned out loud. Another remarkable motion picture of a kind is distinguished „The Kite” directed by Randa Chahal Sabbag. This movie has won the Venice Film Festival’s grand jury award in 2003. This motion picture presents the story of a 15-year-old Druze girl living in the last Lebanese village before the green line, prior to the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from southern Lebanon in 2000 (Leaman, 2001, pp. 235-238).

Hardships on the way of Lebanese Cinematography
Since its early beginnings, the ways of Lebanese cinema were very thorny. This was because the political and economical situation in the country was not stable, thus the cultural development could not be thriving as well. It is noteworthy, how every masterpiece of the Lebanese directors came as a challenge, rather than as a glory. For example, the first Lebanese film, „The Adventures of Elias Mabrouk” was produced in 1930 but only released in 1932. „In the Ruins of Baalbeck” – a film was created in 1933 also took three years before it reached theatres. Furthermore, in the 1940s, Ali al-Ariss started his first film, „The Flower Merchant”, however he could not complete it for technical reasons. Thus, we see that every motion picture in Lebanon was a struggle: a struggle with authorities, a struggle with sponsors, and a struggle with the social order. Another peculiarity of Lebanese cinematography is that event though many Lebanese directors were famous all over the world there was no such thing as a unified structure called Lebanese Cinema (Hammond, 2004, pp. 112-113).

The Different Features affecting Lebanese Motion Picture
Lebanon is a very little but very beautiful country, situated on the rolling hills and mountainsides overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This county offers beaches, mountains, and a capital –Beirut - a city with a vivacious culture and nightlife. It can be said that Lebanon is the Middle Eastern country where east and west connect and create a very special atmosphere. However, Lebanon is also the country that had been convulsed by the protracted tragedy of civil contention. The violent civil war was followed by incursions, invasions, and occasional occupation by the armed forces of foreign powers and organizations. Thus, it is clear that there are many features that affected Lebanese motion picture. In this part of the paper I would like to talk about the setbacks and promoters of Lebanese films as well as the duality of war existing in Lebanon.

As it was discussed in the previous section, the Lebanese cinematography managed to produce stupendous motion pictures well accepted at various international contests despite the impossible conditions of the war and its aftermath. What is peculiar to the Lebanese motion picture is their quality, poignancy, and depth. The Lebanese cinematography has been overlooked for years because of its more active neighbors Syria and Egypt. However, when the quality and intensity of Lebanese motion pictures was noticed, the Lebanese cinema attained its high point. Observing the high raise in the Lebanese cinematography many directors from Syria and Egypt had moved to Lebanon with the aim to culminate the movie production in the country. These professionals saw the potential of Lebanon and wanted to make the best of it, however, they were also willing to boost the quantity of movies in order to make profits and were not willing to concentrate on the contents of the films. Thus, the intervention of directors from other Arabic countries hurt Lebanese cinematography. The money made from the motion pictures, unquestionably, did not stay in Lebanon, and furthermore, the country was on the way to losing its reputation of producing deep and moving motion pictures (Hammond, 2004, p. 114).

The discussed above is indisputably a setback Lebanese filmmaking industry faced however, here were also those who wanted to promote the industry and who worked for its wellbeing. The filmmaking activists of Lebanon started a campaign for a proper Lebanese cinema industry. In the framework of this campaign Extensive Communication Arts programs at various universities were created. These programs produced remarkable talents and generated widespread film culture. Promoters of the Lebanese filmmaking industry wanted to nurture local movie directors who would be willing to portray in their motion pictures the beauty of their country and who would use its potential for good purposes and not only for revenue generation (Hammond, 2004, p. 114).

In every section of the paper there is leitmotiv of the Lebanese Civil War. Besides, it is the leitmotiv of the whole Lebanese history. Lower I would like to talk about the duality of this war and how this duality influences Lebanese cinematography. By duality of war symbolizes the two visions of Lebanon that are easy to find in the country. It can be assumed that duality is the essence of Lebanon. This is so because on one hand Lebanon is a breeding ground for Islamic militants and proxy battleground for regional conflict, but it is also a beautiful sunny destination for tourists and businessmen. This Arabic country possesses all the features of a conservative Islamic state, though at the same time it has its European savor - an inheritance from French colonial administration. One of the ironies and at the same time dualities of the war is that it sparked a series of films about its subject matter, yet it contributed to the destruction of the cinema industry in Lebanon.

Lebanon is indeed an astonishing country. However, as sad as it is only in the last couple of years Lebanese filmmakers started to concentrate on the beauty and renewal of their state and not on the war and the bullet-pocked shells of old buildings. There are opinions that Lebanese filmmakers were encouraged to concentrate mainly on the war-reality movies than on the movies glorifying the beauty of the land by the authorities. It can also be assumed that Lebanese film industry was a pawn in the hands of stronger neighbors who did not want Lebanese cinematography to thrive (Leaman, 2001, pp. 239-243).

Crippling Effects of War on Film Industry
The effects of the Lebanon Civil War were seen in all the fields: in the economy, in the politics, in the cultural life of the land. Without doubt, the civil war brought Lebanese economy down to the point when it was no longer effective. the government of the country was no longer trusted by the Lebanese people, as well as the old policies did not seem to apply any longer. The cultural potential of the country was weighted down, and even though many books have been written and many motion pictures had been filmed at that time, the country did not live on a grand it could have lived. However, the civil war brought along some other overwhelming dramatic effects - the war caused a huge damage in all the cities in Lebanon (Krayem, 1995).

The latter added up to the crisis of Lebanon as a country, every sphere of its existence had to be literally rebuilt. The destruction hit Lebanese cities on the big scale. Big cities as well as small villages were ruined to the ground. The house people lived it were destroyed, children could not go to schools because the school buildings no longer existed, even most of the doctors had to operate in partly-destroyed building. It is obvious that cinemas and production studios in Lebanon had he same fate as Lebanese homes, schools, and hospitals.   Indeed, there were professionals who agreed to work in the inappropriate conditions, however, without a shadow of doubt, the filmmaking industry could not use its full potential because the overall destruction present in the country.

The problems discussed above are crucial, however buildings can be rebuild, while another problem that Lebanese filmmaking industry faced could not be solved only by launching rebuilding campaigns. The problem I am referring to was the brain drain the country faced in the years of the civil war and is unfortunately facing up to the present day. Brain drain or human capital flight is a large emigration of individuals with practical skills or special knowledge, normally due to conflict, lack of opportunity, political instability, or health risks. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s thousands of Lebanese people fled their homeland, thousands more were killed, and the warring communities tended to become ever more intransigent in their demands for social autonomy. Some sources point of that in fact, in the late 1980s the social systems was so relentlessly fragmented that a national society could be regarded as non-existent (Carr, Inkson, Thorn, 2005, pp. 386-389). 

Sadly, the Lebanese wars had weakened the bonds of national loyalty and the feeling of belonging to the country. There were some people that believed that Lebanon should restore the unity of a society comprising all sects. However, there were many others, mostly religious fanatics and self-interested nationalists, which rejected national and political integration within a system of shared tolerance and acceptance (Ahram Weekly Online Newspaper, 2005).  As a consequence of constant flee of skillful individuals from the country, the filmmaking industry suffered severely. Of course, many film directors stayed in the country and continued to create their motion pictures, however Lebanese cinematography could not exercise its full potential because many of its brilliant children were forced to work for production companies in France, the United States and Great Britain. Moreover, the absence of funding in Lebanon means that most films made in, and about, the country are made with European funding, with the distribution also largely confined to Europe (Carr, Inkson, Thorn, 2005, pp. 395-398).

The Hidden Benefits of War on the Film Industry
All of the above sections of the present paper in one or another way talked about the destructive effects the wars in Lebanon had on various aspects of Lebanese life. However, now I would like to show some hidden benefits the war had on Lebanese film industry. The first benefit I would like to mention is the emergence of „Intelligentsia Libanaise”. It has been mentioned already that during the years of civil wars in Lebanon many motion pictures have been created.  Thus, it can even be said that the continuous war was the push Lebanese civilization needed to enter the phase of modernization and to begin the era of „intelligentsia”.

During the colonial times Lebanon was controlled by France, thus Lebanese intelligentsia followed the pattern of the French one. In the framework of intelligentsia development the socio-economical regime of Lebanon was altered, however, most importantly the arrival of intelligentsia opened up an absolutely new page in the cultural life of Lebanon. Even prior to the Lebanese Civil War some features of social change reflected an essential tendency towards modernization, yet the process of modernization lacked national uniformity (Leaman, 2001, pp. 371-372). Moreover, in Lebanon, as it was in other Arabic countries the strain between the forces of permanence and change slowed down the pace of modernization. This was particularly true when the Lebanese political system did not adapt by expanding the scope of political representation and expression (Lapidus Marwin, 2000, pp. 442-444).

However, during the years of the Civil War, the government concentrated mostly on the military affairs of the country. Furthermore, during those years many foreigners from world organizations came to the country and brought some modernization flames and many Lebanese people went abroad and some of them came back and brought something innovative (Choueiri, 2001, pp. 68-70). Thus, when living the hardest of its years Lebanon also got a chance to modernize its literature, music, and of course the filmmaking industry. Thus, it can be said, that for some extent the war had benefit for the filmmaking. However, without doubt, the price paid for modernization and „intelligentsia” was too high (Leaman, 2001, pp. 373-374).

The Dawn of a New Era
Today Lebanon is still the country with many problems. The Civil War may be considered to be over, however the situation in the region is so unstable that one may never be sure about what is going to happen. As for the Lebanese filmmaking it can be said that it started its new era. As it has already been said the Lebanese directors presently stooped focusing on the war, its effects, its aftermath, its reasons, et cetera. These directors are searching for new topics that would fully exercise the potential the country has.

One of the drawbacks that the new era of Lebanese cinematography still experiences is the talent drain. Many Lebanese directors moved to France and currently work between Paris and Beirut. Despondently, Lebanon is currently not really in the state to finance cinematography, thus the directors work with French funds. However, French funding sets strict rules as to how the films have to be produced, what regions the films can be distributed in, and even what language they have to be in. In fact, there is a restriction on the use of languages other than French in the films. This presents a dilemma for Lebanese filmmakers working in France. Not only their movies are usually only in French an sometime are not even available in Lebanon. Furthermore, French sponsors also impose restrictions on the subject matter of the films and the characters to be portrayed (Leaman, 2001, p. 371).

The purpose of the research paper was to show the factors that had effects on the development of the Lebanese motion picture. Lower, as a conclusion I would like to once again summarize the affecting factors I have pointed out in the above paper. I have to start off with once again mentioning that the civil war in Lebanon had not only affected, but simply shaped Lebanese filmmaking industry and the movies that Lebanese directors produce. There are many negative effects the war had on filmmaking industry, these effects were pointed out earlier, there are even hidden positive effects of the war on the industry. Though, the main idea of the paper is that the industry was and unfortunately is still mostly built around the civil war.

The reality is that even today Lebanese cinema cannot be described as an industry but rather as a collection of films made by incongruent filmmakers working independently. Most Lebanese films are not distributed widely, either in Lebanon or abroad and have a short screening life at film festivals but are not released in cinemas or on video. Moreover, many universities in Beirut have initiated audio-visual programs, nevertheless there is no system in place for the financial support, dispensation, or allocation of motion pictures. Finally, even though it widely advertised that Lebanese filmmaking industry has entered a new phase – a phase of war-free movies we still see that though the war ended in 1991, its reality still continues in the consciousness of even younger filmmakers, such as Samir Habchi and Ziad Doueiri. Surely, the real new era in Lebanese cinematography will start with eventually, however the country has to recover fully until then.
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